Skunks: The Empire Strikes Back

Last Sunday (February 25) we woke up in the middle of the night to a bad smell like our furnace was burning up. On Monday morning, I looked at the furnace before I went to work and everything looked in working order. I took off work a little early to go home and investigate the furnace smell. After digging around a little bit, I decided that maybe the humidifier and air filters needed to be changed. I bought new filters and the smell seemed to be gone by Monday night. I was ever so thankful that the smell was gone - it was repulsive.

Tuesday evening went without a hitch - Tuesday night, however, the smell was back but this time it was much, much worse. The smell was bad enough to wake us up. We sniffed around and were once again lead to the furnace in the basement. I tore our furnace apart at 3:00 in the morning. I had the humidifier disassembled, the air filter out, the blower removed and half of the wires disconnected. I couldn't find anything that smelled like the smell in the room. The smell seemed to be coming from the room next to the furnace room. We felt light switches and outlets for heat. Nothing. Something was leaking or burning. As Jane was cleaning up, she decided to take the trash out - maybe it was the source of the smell. When she got near the trash cans outside, she yelled down to me. She said that it was even worse outside. I ran out there and sniffed around.

It was the gas meter! I called the gas company and described the smell. I said it doesn't smell exactly like a gas leak - that it smelled more like skunk but was much more intense than it should be. The agent on the phone told me to get everyone out of the house because we had a gas leak. "Don't hang up the phone - don't turn on or off any lights." Jane ran upstairs to wake Elliot. In a panic, we grabbed whatever coats, blankets and clothing we could find and ran outside. We all stood outside in the bitter cold and waited for the gas man. While we were waiting, we noticed a skunk in our neighbor's driveway. It couldn't be that a skunk sprayed our house, could it? About 4:45 the gas man finally arrived. He stepped out of the van and said that we had a skunk, not a gas leak. He used some crazy device that sparked to check for gas leaks (brilliant, I say). He checked out the water heater and the disassembled furnace. He shut off all of our pilot lights and did a pressure test. He asked me to reassemble the furnace while he did the test. Everything tested fine and we all went to look around outside. We found two holes - one under our porch and one under a concrete ledge along the front of our house.

We had skunks living under our house!! The smell in the house was unbearable. Skunks don't smell the same when you are close to them. It is much, much worse than on the highway. It literally made us sick. Words don't do the smell justice. It is as if, somehow, God was able to take every smell on earth and concentrate it into 1 ounce of skunk spray. It was about 5:45 in the morning now and we were all tired and sick. Elliot went back to bed but Jane and I couldn't; the smell was too much. We wanted to stay home so that we could sleep, but we decided to go to work because of the smell. We both called our parents (sources of complete knowledge and wisdom). After helpful, detailed accounts of skunk and other pest experiences both came to the same conclusion - call Animal Control or a pest company. At 8:00 Wednesday morning I called Lawrence Animal Control. I was informed by the cheerful agent that Lawrence Animal Control only deals with domestic animals. I scanned through the yellow pages and called the only pest company that had skunks listed in their advertisement. They set up a trap during the day on Wednesday.

Tired and stinky, Jane and I went to work. About halfway there, I thought I smelled skunk. Did I smell like skunk?? I called Jane on her cell phone and asked her if she noticed any smell on her clothing or coat. She said no and that I was probably having "false smells". When I got to work, I hung my coat in the tiny coat closet inside my cubicle. I asked a trusted colleague if they would smell my coat to see if it smelled skunky. IT DID! Oh, lord - do I smell like skunk? Embarrassingly, I asked him to smell me...I didn't stink. Whew! It was bad enough that my coat smelled like skunk. Paranoid, I smelled my shirt at various points during the day. Throughout the day we discussed our adventure with fellow employees. It was amazing...nearly everyone knew someone that once had skunks living under their house. No one knew what to do, however. We spent most of the day searching the web for information. Now, normally when you search for specific information on the web you get back erroneous results and links to things you shouldn't be looking at. When you search for skunks, however, everything that you get back is pertinent information. There were hundreds of methods for getting skunks to leave your house. There were even methods for getting them to stick around. I picked a couple of good sites and printed them off. I went home at about 4:30 and investigated the skunk holes. No change. I called my dad to talk to him about what to do. While we were talking, Mr. Skunk wiggled out from under the porch. He ran right by the trap and entered the hole near the patio. About a minute later, he came out of that hole and went back under the porch. At about 7:30 Wednesday night, we caught the skunk. We called the pest company who stated that they would come get it in the morning. We were so happy! We had caught the skunk and all was well. Confident and reassured, we slept well that night (despite the lingering smell). On Thursday, the pest company removed the skunk and reset the trap just in case there were more.

Well, Thursday night rolled around and at about 2:00 a.m., the smell filled the house once again. It was the worst of the three sprays. Maybe it was accumulating and intensifying. Physically sickened and terribly tired, Jane, Elliot and I stayed home Friday. It was pouring rain and the house stunk. Our spirits were down. We thought that we would have to live with this forever. They were such pesky little animals. I got dressed and went to Dillon's to buy vinegar to boil. The vinegar helped a lot with the smell although it wasn't so pleasant itself.. At least it was a welcomed change. About midday, I ran to Orscheln's and bought a giant sledge hammer. In the pouring rain, I went outside and removed a concrete ledge that ran the length of the front of our house. The ledge didn't appear to be necessary and the skunks had been burrowing under it. It was laborious work, but, in a couple of hours I had the ledge removed and discovered the real problem. The skunks were using the tunnel under the ledge to get to a bigger den under our patio. I couldn't remove the patio, so I went back in the house wet and discouraged.

The vinegar seemed to work so well in the house that I decided to put some in my Ortho sprayer and shoot it into the hole under the patio. Because of the style of sprayer, I had to get very close to the hole. It stunk, but I didn't care. If this worked, it would all be worth it. After a few minutes, a skunk stuck its nose out of the hole. I wasn't aware that I could do this, but I actually flew. I somehow went from a squatting position right next to the hole to a standing position about 15 feet behind the hole. Maybe it was my Nike shoes? Figuring that it couldn't get any worse, I started spraying the skunk with the vinegar and water solution. It left the hole and ran off. I threw some bricks over the opening and went in the house to rejoice! Jane was finally getting some sleep so I celebrated with Elliot. When I went back out, the bricks had been moved. Did another skunk leave or did that one go back in? Unsure, I placed rocks and bricks over the two openings and used wooden stakes to hold them in place. The bricks were wrapped in plastic so that I could see if the skunks scratched at the bricks to get in or to get out (Thanks for the idea, Dad).

When I woke up Saturday morning, I checked the openings. The skunks had burrowed under the bricks near the porch and moved all the rocks that had blocked the patio opening. They were not deterred and had gotten back in. Sickened by the thought of never being able to get them out of the house, I bought a raincoat and went back to work on the problem. I mixed together a strong solution of ammonia and water and sprayed it into the openings. After a gallon of ammonia and hundreds of gallons of water, no skunks had exited. When combined with the thunderstorms, my watering efforts had flooded our flower beds. The basement was starting to leak. I bailed water out of basement window wells and stopped the leaking. With the amount of water that had entered the skunk burrows, I was convinced that either there were none in there or I had drowned them!!

Unsure, I built a massive barrier using hundreds of rocks around the openings and other places they could try to get in. Near each opening, I left a tiny hole stuffed with leaves. If the skunks entered or exited the holes, I would be able to see by the way the leaves had been disturbed. I set aside a few choice chunks of concrete and went inside. I set my alarm and got up at 2:00 a.m. Sunday morning to check the status. The hole under the porch had been opened but the other was still undisturbed. I took the reserved chunks of concrete and piled them over the little holes that I created. I then then packed the whole mess with mud. I went back to bed but I couldn't sleep. I fretted over whether it would work or not. I finally fell asleep. At 8:00 Sunday morning I got up and checked the holes.

NO SKUNKS!! The skunks had tried to get in, but failed. They really tried - even in spots that weren't even near the openings. I scooted off to Payless Cashways and bought (26) 2" x 12" x 12" patio blocks. I went back home and spent all day Sunday digging under the porch and patio. I created concrete walls by placing the blocks vertically into the ground. The walls were created under the patio and porch so that the skunks couldn't get back in. I filled the sloppy, muddy mess with a mud, dirt, sand and water combination and piled leaves and mulch around so that I could see if they tried to get in.

Well, Monday morning (Day 8) I checked and sure enough they had tried to get in. They, however, encountered my concrete walls and failed! It had been a horrible, tiring week but I had finally defeated them.

Hopefully this will be my last entry into this story. It is now Wednesday and the skunks are still gone. The house almost smells normal now, although it still has a light, ripe odor. I'll keep you posted.

It is now April 1st and I think that the skunks have given up. I'll keep my fingers crossed...